The Internet has been given the reins of free speech since its inception, but the rights of entrepreneurs and users in the United States are being threatened by two new bills about to be voted on in the Senate.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would theoretically hold websites accountable for all the content their users post. If this law goes into effect, sites like Flickr, Youtube, and Etsy, which are made up of user content, would face shutdown if their users violated copyright laws, or even appeared to violate them.
The Protect IP Act (PIPA) would be an attempt to block out websites that are devoted to pirating and illegal activity. It would give the government the ability to block anything it deems unworthy of public consumption, which could pose serious restrictions on the freedom of Internet users.
While the display of content that is truly harmful, such as child pornography, should be followed and the people who post it held accountable, these two bills would present a serious challenge to the First Amendment rights of Americans. They would damage the abilities of Web innovators to make their content accessible, and the rights of their users to view and utilize them.
Giving lawmakers such a tight grip on the Internet, which is a primary tool of free expression and information in the twenty-first century, would be a regressive step for a technologically savvy and intellectual generation of Americans.
Several human rights organizations, including the Center for Media Justice, the Free Network Foundation, and Virtual Activism have voiced their disapproval for both of the bills, which will be presented to the Senate Jan. 24.
Television and print already have enough censorship guidelines imposed on them, and in order for the American public to absorb the in-depth details of events and issues happening around the world, the Internet should remain free and accessible to anyone willing to explore it.